Photography by Yuri Krasov

I’ve always known that vacationing in the mountains was for the athletic, physically well-adjusted, and fearless people who don’t mind long hikes, sharp air temperature changes, and heavy backpacks…

Just like the absolute majority of vacationers, I’ve always preferred seaside and leisure to snowy peaks and incessant hiking. However, my recent personal discovery of Tirol region in Austria made me rethink my vacation persuasion.

Our lucky adventure started with the Lufthansa non-stop flight San Francisco- Munich. From there, it was an easy ride with a car-and-driver transportation service, Four Seasons Travel – their office located right at the airport. Soon my husband and I were in Austria; warmly greeted at a charming Hotel Alte Post in a beautiful little town of St. Anton am Arlberg – one of the 12 “Best of the Alps” most traditional Alpine resorts in Europe.

Besides excellent service, based on decades of hospitality culture, Hotel Alte Post boasts a large wellness facility with sauna, steam room, swimming pool, and hot tubs, and a high-class restaurant that serves full breakfast and dinner.
Through the windows of our spacious, clad in warm pinewood hotel room, I observed an idyllic picture of hilly green pastures with flocks of sheep whose faint bleating and tinkling bells could be heard in the clean mountainous air.

Our first order of business was to get to the top of Valluga (2811m) where from a 360-degree sightseeing platform one could enjoy the view of the Alps in four different countries – Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy.

State-of-the-art Galzigbahn, constructed in 2006, took us on a fast and breathtaking trip above the clouds. Back in 1937, the Galzig cable car was one of the first gondolas in the region, serving 210 persons an hour. The new contemporary lift is based on the technology of a Ferris wheel, making it possible for the passengers to embark and exit at ground level. The unique glass construction of the gondola station looks like a giant crystal, lit up at night.
A local museum, dedicated to the history of St. Anton and located in a 1912 “Villa Trier” tells a story of Hannes Schneider – the Arlberg ski pioneer. The father of downhill skiing as we know it began his career as a ski instructor in 1907 and founded the world’s first ski school in winter of 1920-21, teaching the guests of the Hotel Alte Post how to shift their weight, and adjust speed and balance on uneven terrain. In his St. Anton ski school, which still exists today, Schneider trained groups of students according to their individual abilities. He introduced the “Arlberg technique” to the international audiences, and then traveled to Japan with a series of lectures and seminars affirming his motherland’s leading role in the development of winter sports.

He also performed as an actor in a number of highly popular ski movies, like Der Weisse Rausch (The White Thrill) directed by Arnold Fanck and shot in St. Anton in the winter of 1930-31.

In 1938 Schneider was imprisoned by the Nazis for repeatedly speaking up against the Nazi regime and supporting Jewish friends. Thanks to international pressure, he was soon released, and in 1939 immigrated to the USA, where he established a famous ski school in New Hampshire, and died in 1955.
We boarded a train of the Arlberg railway, inaugurated by the Emperor Franz Joseph in 1884 – a masterpiece of alpine engineering still in an excellent working condition today – and headed to Innsbruck, the capital of Tirol.

In Innsbruck, the mountains come up closer to the city – cold, severe, with snow-covered tops. Here, we ascended to the wind-swept heights of Seegrube (1905 м) and Hafelekar (2300 м) in a funicular and two cable cars, just to get a quick look at the endless mountainous country, and the lush emerald greenery of the city below, traversed by the jade-colored river Inn.

Chilled to the bone from a close encounter with the North Chain mountain range, I indulged in a warm delicious Kasspatzl’n mit Roestzwiebln (cheese spaetzle with roasted onions) at the oldest city restaurant, Weisses Roessl, founded in 1590. This slow-food restaurant serves all the farm-to-table traditional specialties stemming from Austrian, Hungarian, and Bohemian culinary roots.
After lunch we explored the Old Town and its historical landmarks – Goldener Dachl, a golden roof built for Emperor Maximilian I (1459-1519) over a balcony from which he liked to observe the knights’ tournaments; St. Anne’s column, commemorating a 1703 Tyrolean victory over Bavarian troops; and a contemporary outdoor artwork of orange banners listing the names of Austria’s courageous citizens who raised their voices against the Nazi regime during WWII.

For a relatively small city of about 125 000 population, Innsbruck has an impressive wealth of museums and other cultural institutions. Kaiserliche Hofburg – the imperial court palace, built as residence of the Tyrolean provincial rulers under Archduke Sigmund the Rich, was then extended by Emperor Maximilian I, and later rebuilt in the Viennese baroque style by Maria Theresa (1717-1780). At the Hofkirche (the court church) there is Emperor Maximilian I’s enormous tomb adorned with marble reliefs and surrounded by 28 larger-than-life bronze statues of the Emperor’s ancestors and heroes of antiquity, with three figures designed by Albrecht Durer.
An outstanding collection of arms, arts, and wonders of nature was composed at Schloss Ambras by Archduke Ferdinand II (1529-1595). An extensive Habsburg Portrait Gallery displays masterful depictions of the royal family members from Albrecht III to Franz Joseph I.

Tiroler Landesmuseen contains a series of permanent art exhibitions, and also includes a solid square kilometer of Das Tirol Panorama – a massive and magnificently realistic painting. It’s dedicated to the formation of Tyrolean identity at the battle of Bergisel Hill under a peasant leader Andreas Hofer against the Bavarian and French occupiers during the Tyrolean Was of Independence in 1809.

Late in the evening we settled in our cozy room in a recently renovated Grand Hotel Europa in the city center. A hearty multi-course dinner at the hotel restaurant, Europa Stueberl consisted of regional and seasonal specialties, like beef broth with liver dumpling, boiled beef with spinach and potatoes, and Tyrolean dessert of knoedle (dumplings filled with plum jam).
Restored and rejuvenated after a good night sleep, we headed for the Swarovski Kristallwelten – a lavish display of all things shiny from the world’s leading manufacturer of cut crystal. Coming from Bohemia in the 1880s, the Swarovski brothers found an ideal place for their sparkling product at the foothills of the Austrian Alps. With a major breakthrough – the invention of the machine to substitute hand-cutting – Daniel Swarovski started a trend that continues to dazzle our stage, screen, and party life for over a century.

The company produces zirconia – an artificial diamond with different colors of crystals coming from different metal oxides used in the process, and clear stones with diamond cut. Artists from Salvador Dali to Andy Warhol used Swarovski crystals in their art, and their remarkable artwork is on display today, as well as a number of site-specific exhibitions that change every several months.
We were in a hurry trying to get to Kufstein – by the Kaiser mountain range, surrounded by meadows, woods, and lakes – in time for the annual cattle drive. Tyrolean cows, which spend all summer in the green mountainous pastures, hardly have any natural enemies, but they might parish in a thunderstorm, or fall down from a steep hillside. When all the cows are safe and sound at the end of the summer season, their homecoming turns into a grandiose celebration in the Tyrolean villages.

We arrived just in time for the festivities. Along the main drag of Kufstein the bands were playing, the shepherds in lederhosen and Tyrolean hats were performing a rhythmical dance with whips, and krapfen pastries were prepared right there, in multiple street stalls.

Soon a herd of well-fed brown-and-white cows appeared at the end of the street. Adorned with headdresses made of flowers and ribbons, like Las Vegas showgirls, the cows proceeded down the street past the cheering and applauding crowd. Long after the last of them returned home to their owners, the people continued to celebrate with song and dance, schnapps and sausages from the local makers.
We checked in at the new, well-appointed and exceedingly comfortable Hotel Stadt Kufstein, with wonderfully fluffy snow-white beds in spacious nicely decorated rooms; state-of-the-art wellness facility; beautiful restaurant serving buffet breakfast, a chic bar, and above all – excellent service.
From the large windows of our room we could see the round white tower of Festung Kufstein (Kufstein fortress) – a landmark dating from 1205 – that soars over the neat and clean little town. It contains a museum of the fortress that used to be a military base, an arena of many battles, especially during the war between Bavaria and Tirol, and a prison in the dark times of religious persecutions and “witch” trials. There is also a history museum, and the largest open-air organ in the world, “Heldenorgel,” which can still be heard all over town every day at noon. A lift “Kaiser Maximilian” with a panoramic view takes visitors to the fortress.

Rows of beautiful and well-kempt historical buildings along the main street Roemerhofgasse in the old town center surround a pedestrian zone, studded with souvenir shops and quaint little restaurants.

We had enough time only for two of the Kufstein restaurants, but both were truly remarkable.

A restaurant at the Hotel Andreas Hofer serves seasonal fare, including wild mountain goat (chamoia) and venison during the hunting season. The game is nicely complimented by the traditional vegetables – red cabbage, carrots, and mashed potatoes.

I was blown away by the dessert. Blueberry pancakes Tyrolean style looked dark blue, since they contained more berries than dough, and were simply addictive. After I finished my plate of pancakes, my lips and tongue appeared blue from the abundance of blueberries, but I was in a good company – the majority of the diners at the restaurant were beaming with similar blue-colored smiles.

The oldest restaurant in town, Auracher Loechl, with the “olden days” décor, and very popular with the tourists and locals alike, serves all the Tyrolean specialties, and a remarkable desert, Kaiserschmarrn. The legend has it that once upon a time an imperial chef accidentally cut up a pancake which he was supposed to serve to the Emperor Franz Joseph. He masked his mistake with rum, raisins, and powdered sugar, and since then the dish has acquired notoriety and popularity.
Our last stop before heading home was at the world-famous Riedel Glass factory in Kufstein. From a second-floor gallery, the visitors can observe a team of skilled glass-blowers in white shirts and sunglasses noiselessly moving in front of the red-hot ovens, transporting bubbles of flaming liquid from one work station to another. They create delicate pieces of glass art – wine glasses that presumably enhance the taste of wines, whimsical decanters, and flower vases – with an ancient mouth-blowing method, and apply time-honored complicated techniques to produce one of a kind handcrafted Riedel glass, cherished throughout the world for its incomparable beauty.

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John M. Edwards finds post-communist Sopron now to be less about Habsburgian opulence and more about ubiquitous “discount dentistry.” Get a load of the new set of gleaming white chompers! During a week-long road trip from Budapest to Salzburg, I somehow convinced my driver and friend Erik D’Amato, an American expat, financial writer, and editor of the popular Magyar web site Pestiside (, to make a stopover in one of my favorite foreign finds: Sopron.

“Wow, I’m impressed!” Erik bruited, as we blundered down the historic Inner Town’s worn cobblestone streets, resembling uneven rows of bad overbites. These architectural oddities (usually a sign of an historic district or gentrifying pretender), flanked with brightly painted Baroque and Gothic buildings and Neo-Classical statuary, led us to the awesome square known as Fo Ter.
Here, close to the 13th-century “Goat Church” and Trinity Plague Column, was the city’s most memorable structure: the Firewatch Tower, whose 200 steps lead up to a 60-meter-high observation deck where once swarms of Medieval trumpeters brayed warnings of incestuous blazes. “I had no idea anything like this was here.” Erik even made a quick call on his cellphone to his wife Janet, who works for Hungarian billionaire philanthropist George Soros, to rave about it.
I couldn’t believe Erik had never heard of it. Revisiting Sopron (German: Odenburg), caused memories of my first visit to resurface. This real “Austro-Hungarian Empire” border city still looked the same, albeit now with new bars and flash cafes and ATM machines plugged into the new Eurozone economy. But outward appearances are often illusory: I was interested in the imperceptible “changes” creeping up in a city famed for its fine food and drink: not only ghoulash and paprikash (Hungary’s dual national dishes), but the wonder wine “Soprani Kekfrancos,” a strong vampiric elixir far superior to the better-known plonk Egri Bikavier (Bull’s Blood), available nationwide. Even the “Transylvanian” prince Vlad Tepes, the historical Count Dracula (claimed by both Hungary and Romania) and known for dining among impaled Turks on sharpened sticks who tried to invade his country, would trade in his fangs for dentures for a vintage bottle of the stuff.
Although Sopron was a long way to go to get my teeth fixed, I decided maybe it was worth it. Business was booming for, of all things, “discount dentistry”– and there was a steady stream of wincing Austrians with toothaches crisscrossing the border to undergo the ubiquitous dentists’ drills. English signs everywhere advertised cheap checkups: “Cleaning, Fillings, Crowns, and Bridges!” New EU and NATO membership, I guess, had its privileges. Anyway, I felt frigging fantastic walking around with a new set of gleaming white chompers!

Here history is worth repeating. I first found myself in Sopron, by happy accident, in 1989, during the so-called Cold War—unaware that my opportune visit would nearly coincide (short by a month) the democratic demonstrations that would pull and extract Communism for good out of Central Europe. Sopron, which nearly left its Hungarian homeland to annex itself to Austria before World War II, was always an unusual anomaly and special case, its high standard of living the envy of every commie factotum trapped in the industrial wastelands of the periphery. As a freewheeling capitalist tourist, I found Sopronis back then to be helpful and friendly. Even the local “secret police” introduced themselves and wished me a pleasant trip! A rare Western tourist traveling independently, I privileged myself by walking around alone along the deserted streets at night, lit up like a movie set. Apparently, on most nights, I had the place to myself!

One of my favorite experiences during communist times was finding an al fresco eatery (that’s Italian for “outdoors”) in a stately square presided over by a stern statue. The Sevruga caviar (imported from the Soviet Union) was so cheap with the artificial exchange rate that I literally pigged out, letting the eggs dissolve on my tongue like Pop Rocks ™. “You are American?” an excited Soproni with fabulous Prussian moustaches asked me one day in disbelief. “Is it true in America that you can buy anything you like?” Yep. Now that this once secret-sharer borderline dream has been discovered (some now call it Hungary’s new little “Prague,” even though the architectural legacy is different). I felt a little bit miffed about who had replaced the Soviets as the occupying force: fragrant hippies clutching Lonely Planet guides and acting up in the revivified bar and café scene. The popular “Generalis Corvinus Café” on Fo Ter looked as if a Phish concert had exploded there. I couldn’t help but think that something “Grand Siecle” had been lost or mistranslated during democratization and commercialization. Why, for example, was I staying at a “Best Western” (albeit one with a luxury pool and spa)?
While Erik retired early to prep himself for the drudgery of the next day’s drive, I went out on the town and ended up getting egregiously lost. At a British-style pub with no name, but serving Czech and Polish pivo (pilsener) and German Heffewiezen (wheat beer), I asked the muscle-bound bartender, in the language of the Holy Roman Emporers, for “Das Best Western Hotel, bitte.”
(The “secret” Finno-Ugric language of Hungarian, related only to Finnish, Estonian, and possibly Turkish, and not much else, is almost impossible for non-natives to master). Pointing vaguely towards the street, the bartender directed, with rapid-fire Teutonic efficiency and in a booming Terminator Two voice: “Linx, rechts, linx, rechts, linx, rechts, linx, linx, rechts. . . .”

Photography by Emma Krasov

Traveling to Vienna in spring is a double treat – the weather in this gorgeous European capital is balmy, and white asparagus is in season. Let me elaborate.

I remember how I came to try white asparagus for the first time. It was in Chicago, and the preparation was done by the world-famous chef. Under my server’s intense gaze I bit into a pale meek stalk, and couldn’t force myself to take another bite. “So, how is it?” he said. “Bland,” said I – to his barely contained outrage. Since then I was not actively seeking this perennial shoot intentionally held underneath the soil to keep it colorless. It didn’t do anything to me – until I’ve tried it at Palmenhaus restaurant in Burggarten, Vienna.

Silky, tender, mild, but full of spring-like fresh flavor, it was simply served with a boiled potato, some bitter greens, and buttery-lemony hollandaise sauce. What a delight!

Steel-and-glass Art Deco Palmenhaus, where Emperor Franz Joseph liked to spend his time off admiring the hot house palm trees, is not the only place that serves white asparagus. Every self-respecting eatery in the city does it in spring and early summer.

While I continued to order it everywhere, I took time to explore other notable staples of local cuisine and the local culinary scene in general.
At Le Loft, located at the top floor of the Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom overlooking downtown, I appreciated traditional marinated herring in mustard sauce, paired with a local wine.
At Zum Schwarzen Kameel, a historic restaurant first open in 1618, I indulged in the Tafelspitz, a favorite dish of Emperor Franz Joseph, who allegedly ate it every day for dinner.
At Meierei im Stadtpark, a former milk drinking hall on the Wien River, I devoured a world-famous Wiener schnitzel, deliciously breaded and sprinkled with lemon.

At least once a day during my trip, exhausted by the sightseeing overdose, I did what tourists do – lounged on a banquette at one or another notorious Viennese café drinking coffee and snacking on chocolaty Sachertorte or vanilla-drenched Apfelstrudel.
There is nothing like a cup of strong mélange to lift a weary traveler’s spirits at a modern Café Motto am Fluss on Danube Canal, or a glass of creamy Wiener Eiskaffee at Café Schwarzenberg, in operation since 1861.
The city is brimming with all kinds of indulgences. Viennese inherent sophistication defines everything here from art and design to sublime culinary delights.

Before leaving Vienna, I stopped at Demel – the historic café und konditorei heading into the third century of its relentless excellence. Formerly a supplier to the imperial court, Demel still carries Empress Sissi’s favorite candid violets and Les Langues de Chat (cat tongues) chocolates exquisitely packed in vintage design boxes tied with silk ribbons.

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Photography by Emma Krasov

Designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel, the “non-color” hotel with all rooms entirely monochrome in white, grey, or black, gives the starring role to Vienna downtown seen through its glass walls, with Stephansdom – a 14th century Gothic cathedral at the very center of the city.
Plenty of color can be found above the hotel atrium and on the top floor over Le Loft restaurant. Sofitel ceilings by Pipilotti Rist are bursting with larger than life images of plant and animal life, and they even have built-in video installations, adding movement to the artist’s flamboyant depictions of energetic splashes, sparkles, and squeezes.

A walk around Danube Canal reveals little designer shops and galleries, merging sometimes, like Song, carrying one-of-a-kind outfits, shoes, Balenciaga bags, and visual art pieces. Next door WUBET produces colorful wool shawls handmade old-fashioned way on an authentic loom delivered from Ethiopia, while Lisabird’s and Lust galleries display ever-changing exhibitions of contemporary artists.
Viennes MuseumsQuartier, or MQ, one of the world’s largest complexes for contemporary art and culture, with MUMOK, Leopold Museum, and Kunsthalle, also implements special programs, like Artist-in-Residence, open to international participants, and “quartier21,” which provides space and support to dozens of small companies focusing on digital and multimedia art and fashion design.

On the adjacent Maria Theresian-Platz, I spent an entire day walking through the galleries of the Vienna’s richest and most distinguished twin museums – Naturhistorisches and Kunsthistorisches built in 1889 and 1891 respectively, and holding innumerable treasures from the imperial collections started more than 250 years ago.

Architecturally stunning buildings by Gottfried Semper and Carl von Hasenauer are elaborately decorated inside and outside with painting and sculptural ornamental embellishments that serve merely as supporting elements emphasizing the various themes of the collections.

The most famous object at the natural history museum is a prehistoric art piece, known as “Venus of Willendorf” coming from Paleolithic archeological sites in Willendorf, Austria, and dating 26 000 – 20 000 BCE.
The fine arts museum overflows with Egyptian, Greek, and Roman artifacts and Dutch, Flemish, German, Italian, Spanish, and French masterpieces in painting and sculpture.
Duke Albert, Empress Maria Theresia’s son-in-law, who collected drawings and prints of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Albrecht Duerer at the end of the 18th century, left his name as well as his collection to Albertina Museum, located in his former palace.
Beautifully restored, Albertina showcases former Habsburg staterooms with period furnishings, an extensive graphics collection from Gothic to contemporary; [my favorite] Schiele pieces – always on display, and a number of changing special exhibitions. On the day of my visit, in the embarrassment of riches there were several hit shows at once: Monet to Picasso; Der Blaue Reiter; Roy Lichtenstein, and Mel Ramos.
To my utmost joy, a special Schiele show, Self-Portraits and Portraits, was also presented at the Belvedere – one of the most visited museums in Vienna. Built in the 18th century by Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt for Prince Eugene, this Baroque ensemble includes two palaces, ponds with fountains, and elaborate gardens with flowerbeds and statuary. It houses a comprehensive collection of international and Austrian art, including the most famous Art Nouveau masterpieces by Gustav Klimt. The unique exhibition of Schiele portraits with 95 works on display showcased his portrait of Edith Schiele, acquired by the Belvedere in 1918 as the first gesture of public museum’s acceptance of the young Expressionist artist. That same year, Schiele died of Spanish flu at the age of 28, only three days after the death of his wife, Edith, who was six months pregnant, of the same disease.

MAK – Museum of Applied Arts was next on my list – yet another architectural gem with elaborately decorated interior and filled with Austrian designers’ creations from Wiener Werkstätte arts and crafts workshop connected with the Secession.
Stemming from the same tradition, still in business are several Viennese institutions, among them – J. & L. Lobmeyr glass shop in business since 1823 – a maker of “Starburst” chandelier for the New York Metropolitan Opera, and interior textile manufacturer Backhausen currently producing accessories based on original designs of the Wiener Werkstätte artists.
The latest addition to the city’s public art, called The Morning Line, is an interdisciplinary project commissioned by Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, founded by Francesca von Habsburg. The Morning Line is a sonic pavilion, made of black-painted aluminum modules of various sizes with cut spiral patterns. The modules are combined into a multifaceted structure that can be built into various configurations reflecting the idea of pulsating universe. Created by Matthew Ritchie with Aranda/Lasch and Arup AGU, the massive yet airy free-form pavilion, which contains 50 loudspeakers, was inaugurated in June at the music festival where contemporary composers presented nine new pieces specially designed for its sonic architecture. The Morning Line will be on display in Vienna through November 20.

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What is so alluring about big cities? One person might say it is the shopping and the people; another will swear by the food and the transportation; still another will be drawn by the opportunity to escape the ordinary, maybe by dressing up and catching a cab to the theater or opera. Others may avoid big cities. The darker side-the noise, the odors, the shady people and the traffic-can be disconcerting to some. This type of traveler might put at risk the energy and pulse of a bigger place to lean towards a smaller, less cosmopolitan city.

Personally, I have always been drawn to bigger cities, not only because I grew up in and around them, but also because traveling with children over the years has taught me that cities tend to be more conducive to pleasing a variety of tastes and needs. While planning our trip to Vienna, I was concerned that it would more resemble some of the smaller cities we had visited in Europe of late…small cobble-stoned streets, lots of churches and historic buildings, plenty of shopping and eating…but miss the truly interesting activities and sights about which children can get excited. After spending five wonderful days there in April, I can say with conviction that I should never have worried.

Vienna is a combination of all of these qualities, plus a palpable history. Whether your interest is music, art, or architecture, not to mention shopping and eating, whether you are traveling with children, or grandparents, or the love of your life, Vienna has something for everyone. I think of the differences between Vienna and other comparably large cities is like a glass blender filled with my favorite flavors of ice cream. Unmixed, they are separate lumps of ice cream
with no cohesion. But, hit the mix button, and then stop right before it is done. What’s there is a smooth swirl of clearly discernible colors moving in one direction, easy and continuous, but still unique enough to identify the strawberry from the chocolate from the mint. That’s Vienna. Now, pour in some milk and add a few other flavors of ice cream, then hit the
button again. When it stops, it is a blend of ingredients which may result in a delicious flavor, or not. That’s other big cities. Vienna has enough to satisfy those who need the feel of a big city with the flavor of a cozy town, but not so overwhelming to the senses as a visit to New York, Chicago, or London.
We started our trip from Amsterdam by City Niteliner train overnight through Frankfurt, Germany. We had a compartment for four. It was the first time any of us had traveled by overnight train anywhere. (Well, I had done it once when I was ten from New York to Los Angeles.but who can remember back then?). I can highly recommend it. My children loved the cozy quarters and settled right in. It was also a unique way to see the countryside without having to worry about the cars
around you. We arrived early in the morning that first day and were picked up by the car service sent by our hotel, the lovely Hotel König von Ungarn, on the Schulestrasse bordering St. Stephen’s Dom and Platz.

Our rooms were not yet prepared, so we checked our luggage and went exploring. We wandered aimlessly this first day, which is always the case with us in a new city. I can look at a map a million times in planning for any trip, and think that I have it down. However, I continue to feel blind and confused until I walk around, family in tow, and visually attach directions and landmarks to the maze of roads in my head. It is during this time that we are most apt to look like tourists, stopping every few minutes to re-calibrate while looking at a map and pointing, sometimes arguing and expressing other obvious hand gestures in the process.

By the middle of the day, we found the Puppen und Spielzeug (Doll and Toy) Museum on Schulhof, Hofburg Palace (even though we didn’t realize the significance of its location to the scheme of the city until almost the last day), Augustinerkirche on the Josefsplatz (where we listened to the choir), and Starbucks. All of this, and we made it back to our hotel only having to stop and ask directions once. After lunch, we took a two-hour city tour via cab. This is a must if you want front row seats to the history of Vienna. The drivers are knowledgeable and amiable.

For the following days, my plan was simple. I offer a variety of choices each day, and let each child choose something as the highlight for that day. Doing nothing (my teenage son’s idea, e.g. hanging around in the room and playing video games) was not an option. Prater Amusement Park was the unanimous choice for the second day. And, to do this, we rode the U3 subway line to the eastern fringe of the city. While it can be frightening at first, I feel using a city’s public
transportation is crucial to experiencing the heart of a city. Vienna’s system is simple and easy to understand. There are only four main lines.
The Prater is not cheap, as is the case with most amusement parks these days, no matter what country you are in, but it has a variety of rides that I haven’t seen in other parks. I spent most of my time sitting at an outside café drinking Austrian beer and watching the locals while my children went off and rode their favorite rides. We spent a total of about four hours there, at which time the kids were more than ready to leave.
Later on, I needed a cultural fix. We headed to Starbucks for an afternoon pick-me-up and then on to the Albertina Museum, just off the Ringstrasse. Their display change frequently, but we were lucky to catch the Mozart exhibition and, in another part of the museum, a display of period furniture and dress. That evening, we ate dinner at Sparky’s Grill, just off the St. Stephen’s Platz. The menu there resembles that of a Chili’s or TGI Friday’s. They have a wide selection of local and run-of-the-mill beers, service is quick and cheerful and it has a great view. It is also a great people watching spot.
Th e next day we took the U4 line west to Schönnbrunn Palace. None of the children was interested in taking a tour of the inside. Luckily, you can choose what parts of the grounds you want to see. This is not a place that can be done in one day, especially with children. Our first stop was Gloriette, which is a large gazebo at the top of the hill behind the palace. The hike up the winding path to the top of the hill is strenuous but once there the rewarding views of the entire greater-Vienna area are well worth it.
The Tiergarten (zoo) was next, but was un-amazing, even for my children, so we made it through quickly and ate lunch at the restaurant there. Although the food is mediocre, it is worth visiting just for the frescoes on the ceiling and unique rotunda shape.
On the way back into the city, we got off a few stops early and walked through the Market. This is something you have to sample, but only if you can stomach the bazaar atmosphere, with the vendors accosting you and
practically pulling you in to look at their stuff. If you can, you will be rewarded with a variety of merchandise and food products unlike you have seen
before. We were drooling as we walked past the food stalls with pile after pile of candies and dried and sweetened fruits of every type, nuts, olives, breads, cheeses, wines and meats. The long walk back to our hotel was worth the opportunity further complete the puzzle in my head of the layout of Vienna.

We could not leave Vienna without a visit to the Mozarthaus. Beyond the well-presented and educational displays, it was inspiring and chilling to stand at any window in the house or any room and think that at one time Mozart himself stood on that very same spot, or walked down that street or stood on that corner speaking with a colleague. The house is tastefully
complete with artifacts and much original design still intact.

Our final excursion was to Grinzing, which is reached by train and then bus. There is not much to do up there, but its allure is in the tranquility and the escape from the hustle of the city. There were some sights and activities that we missed this time, such as a night at the opera, a visit to the Spanish Riding School, and a bike excursion along
the river to Melk, and beyond. For me, I know we will get back to Vienna someday to expand upon our initial
experiences. Unlike some of the smaller cities I have visited, Vienna has a persona all its own which merits
investigation and consideration. It has enough variety and electricity to make us want to return again and again. In this
sense, it is more like a large cosmopolitan city. No wonder it was one of the centers of music and culture so early on. It is clear that it remains so to this day.

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If you can travel to or in Austria treat yourself by including its second largest city, Graz, in your tour. Lying about 60 kms southwest of Vienna in the province of Styria, the city of Graz is located in a fertile valley on the banks of the river Mur. On the west and north the Styrian Alps border this valley and offer the visitor a varied and interesting landscape. Not only is this a city worth visiting because of its charm and history, but also because of its UNESCO designation in 1999 as a World Cultural Heritage Site.

Designated “The Cultural Capital of Europe 2003,” Graz kicks off a series of attractions and events that will go on throughout this year. New happenings include “Mountain of Memories”, an exhibition within the Schlossberg Hill in Graz; “As Heavy as Heaven: Transformations of Gravity” an exhibition, and the opening of the “Insel” cafe on the island in the Mur. Many, many more exciting events will be ongoing throughout the year.
When we were visiting Graz in 2002, we saw the building of the incredible project created by Vito Acconci : building an Island in the middle of the River Mur. It features a small cafe, an open-air theatre, and a playground for children in a design of organically twisted construction made of various merging shells. This island will hold 300 visitors and opened to mark the beginning of the Graz Designation as the Cultural Capital of Europe 2003.
But whether you go to experience the cultural events of 2003 or in years to come, the first stop in Graz should be the central Office of Tourism in the Old Town Walking Mall at Herrengasse, next to Landhaus/Armory, one of the most interesting and historical buildings in the city, having been an arsenal continually since 1644. This central Office of Tourism has information on all the possible tours, excursions, hotels, restaurants, and points of interest in and around Graz.
A great variety of tours and excursions are available and accomodate almost any type of tourist. There are guided walking tours through the Old Town each morning and a musical walk called “The sounds of Graz,” as well as a tour at night called “Spotlights.” Various bus tours focus on a variety of interests such as “Graz Off the Beaten Path,” which emphasizes the architecture of the city. Other excursions out of town include the South area of the vineyards, the North area of the Lippizzaner horse farms, and an excursion to the Austrian Open Air Museum in Stubing. Our bus tour, the Dengg Springer Tours, (which is from 2:30 to 5:00 pm for about 11 euros) was of the city and surroundings. It includes a one hour guided tour at the Eggenberg Castle: a splendid palace of the Hapsburgs with many of the furnishings from Maria Theresa’s time (mid 1700’s). In three languages our guide did an excellent job of covering all the history and details as well as answering our questions.
The city tour includes the three universities. The Karl Francis University of Graz , founded in 1585 as a Counter Reformation effort to compete with the Jesuit University and the Lutheran University, is where the famed scientist Kepler was a professor. At Graz University there are ultra modern buildings, by world-famous local architects, which stand out among the marvelous old architecture of the past centuries. Surrounding this University are beautiful mansions, now homes and commerical buildings, which were once palaces of the nobility.

We drove by several lovely parks interspersed throughout the city, which offered an abundance of green space and recreation areas for the city residents. Passing the industrial section we saw where Siemens makes bus and subway chassis for the world as well as the large assemby plants for the auto-makers BMW, Chrysler, Mercedes, and even Jeep Cherokees. But we found that the industrial complex of Graz did not intrude on the beauty of the city. The parks, universities, residential areas, and historical buildings retain their uniqueness and separateness from the vibrant commerce that creates a stable economy.
During our bus tour our guide had many points of interest, which she combined with brief history lessons that thoroughly enhanced our overall understanding and appreciation of what we were seeing. Graz was designed and built in the twelfth century. Beginning in the thirteenth century it came under the rule of the Hapsburg Dynasty. A major building program in the fifteenth century was undertaken by Duke Frederick V of Austria. When he later became Emperor Frederick III in 1452-93, he made Graz the court residence during his rule. He rebuilt the town castle and the Gothic Parish Church, which is today’s Cathedral. Upon his death, his son Emperor Maximilian I, continued the construction, and in 1499 built a double winding staircase into a wing of the Graz Burg. After this Medieval period Graz played a major role in resisting the expansion of the Ottoman Empire by the Turks in the 16th and 17th centuries. Portions of the ancient city walls and the city fortress endured the invasions from Turks and Hungarians and still remain.

In the Old Town, perched above the city near the busiest center, is a fortress with an immense clock tower. Notice from below the fortress flags of red and green high above. One color was hung to indicate the wine cellar was open and the other color to say the keeper was off duty, so that in ancient times people did not trudge up the hill for naught. If you are able bodied and an enthusiastic historian and purist you can ascend the steep staircase to the clock tower, and experience the original way, or you can be a typical tourist and take the Schlossbergbahn Funicular, an underground modern glass elevator that ascends through the mountain to the top. You can have a coffee, wine, and dine at a lovely restaurant and pub, which protrudes from the cliff over the city and affords beautiful views of the surrounding Cultural Capital of Europe 2003 and the River Mur. It is clear how well the city has juxtaposed the ultra modern of such things as the Funicular while preserving the ancient and historical aspects of the city.
Our stop for a guided tour at the Schloss Eggenberg Palace was almost like a trip to Versailles. This edifice had been a castle in the 16th century, but a series of historic upheavals and wars prevented it being the royal castle for very long. However, around 1700 Hans Eggenberg was made archduke and this was his Duchy, so he constructed his palace around the old castle. Since Hans Eggenberg was a lover of astronomy, the design of the palace is uniquely laid out to follow the changes of the astrological year with windows and rooms marking days, weeks, months, and seasons of the year.

He hired artists trained in Italy for the awesome task of covering walls and ceilings of the many palatial rooms with murals, which have mythological and historical significance. The paintings are incredible in detail, and some of the original wallpaper is still as beautiful as in its early days. The furnishings are exquisite, and especially the game tables, the original clavichord, and the ceramic furnaces in each room.
In addition to the third floor museum of these incredibly furnished palace rooms, there is the old, Gothic part of the castle well preserved, and you can see the beautiful chapel with the iconography in gold and oil paintings. On the second floor of the palace is a marvelous collection of paintings from world famous artists. These are on display as a gallery extension from the downtown Lansmuseum of Art and are really worth an hour or two to see. In the lower floor you’ll view the ancient history museum with a marvelous chariot from 700 BC, which was found in tact in a local farmer’s field.
After the tour we followed the guide’s suggestion and walked the city streets, entering wherever we saw a courtyard or open entrance to an inner part of a building. We had been hesitant but the guide said whenever an entrance is open the owner expects and wants tourists to come in, and some of the most beautiful sights of the city are within these courtyards. In some you’ll find boutiques or restaurants. Graz is a city not to be missed.